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January 7, 2014 > Ohlone Humane Society Column: Culture, tradition and animal welfare

Ohlone Humane Society Column: Culture, tradition and animal welfare

By Eric Mills, OHS Community Relations Director & Legislative Liaison

"Kindness and compassion towards all living things is a mark of a civilized society... Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are cut from the same fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves."
-Cesar Chavez, United Farm Workers, in a 1990 letter to Action for Animals

I'm a big fan of cultural diversity, at least until it crosses the line into animal abuse. I've been working on rodeo issues for some 30 years now. I saw my first "charreada," the Mexican-style rodeo, in Sunol, in southern Alameda County, in 1992.

The charreada features nine standard events. Three have American-style rodeo counterparts: bull riding, bareback bronc riding, and team roping. Three other events involve roping the legs of running horses, either front legs ("manganas" - two styles -- one from horseback; one on foot), or rear legs ("piales," from horseback). The California legislature banned the intentional felling of the horses in 1994, and a dozen other states quickly followed suit. To their credit, the U.S. charro associations changed their rules to comply though horses are still felled in competitions in Mexico.

Easily the most troubling event is "steer tailing" ("colas" or "coleadero"). A mounted charro grabs a running steer by the tail, wraps the tail around his leg, then drags or slams the hapless animal to the ground. Bruising and contusions are routine, tails may be stripped to the bone ("degloved"), even torn off. Horses sometimes suffer broken legs when the steers run the wrong way. (See YouTube videos.) I worked on a case in Denver in which seven steers had their tails "degloved," two others suffered a broken leg and broken pelvis, respectively. Some "sport"!

Here's where it gets interesting. California boasts the best (only?) rodeo animal welfare law in the country, Penal Code 596.7, a 1999 bill carried by Oakland Senator Don Perata, sponsored by Action For Animals. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) managed to weaken the bill to allow an "on call veterinarian" option. Most rodeos opt for "on call" rather than "on site," simply because it's cheaper, and the animals suffer accordingly.

Current rodeo law requires that animal injury reports be submitted to the State Veterinary Medical Board. Yet, in 14 years, only about two dozen have been submitted. NOT POSSIBLE! California hosts some 100 professional rodeos annually, with perhaps double that number of amateur events. Plus hundreds of charreadas.

According to my friend Edward Ramirez, founder of the "Mexican American Classic Charreria Organization," there are nearly 800 charreadas held in California every year. State law was amended in 2007 to include Mexican-style rodeos. Amazingly, in those seven years there has not been a single charreada injury report submitted to the State Vet Board. Again, NOT POSSIBLE! With an estimated annual 250 rodeos and 800 charreadas, one could reasonably expect, at a minimum, 75-100 injury reports every year.

It's clear that something is horribly amiss; the "on call" vets are not being summoned and animals are suffering needlessly. There's also the issue of questionable reporting. For example, at the 2013 California Rodeo in Salinas, only three injuries were reported, while a video filmed by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK) depicted 23 injuries (see GOOGLE).

PARTIAL FIX - State Penal Code 596.7 should be amended to require EITHER an on-site veterinarian, OR an on-site Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) with a licensed vet on call, at EVERY California rodeo and charreada. And two weeks written notice required to local Animal Control of any upcoming rodeo events. Such notice is already required of traveling carnivals with animals.

Neither "horse tripping" nor "steer tailing" is a standard ranching practice anywhere in the U.S., nor are they sanctioned by any American-style rodeo association. "Steer tailing" should be banned outright. Fremont Senator Liz Figueroa introduced such a bill back in 2002. It passed the first committee unanimously, including the "AYE" votes of two Latino legislators, and was sent directly to the Senate floor. Under pressure from the Latino community, the bill was quietly dropped. It's time to try again. Neither "tradition" nor "culture" should ever trump animal welfare.

NOTE - Steer tailing was banned in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties in 1993; by the State of Nebraska in 2009.

Our State Legislature reconvenes on January 6, 2014. Now's the time to contact your representatives and encourage them to introduce this needed humane legislation. Likely authors for these two bills would be Senators Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) and Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley). Both earned an "A" grade on the 2013 Paw PAC Legislative Voting Chart.

All legislators may be written c/o THE STATE CAPITOL, SACRAMENTO, CA 95814.

Thanks for caring.

Eric Mills is a Paw PAC Board Member and coordinator of Action for Animals

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